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A view on how Environment Agency's Data Advisory Group is helping to shape the future of open data

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Today we have a guest post from Savania Chinamaringa, who is a Defra rep at the Environment Agency Data Advisory Group (EADAG)...

I have been involved with the EADAG as a Defra rep from its inception. I attend EADAG meetings to listen and learn but also to contribute to the group’s discussions and deliberations, especially where a Defra wide perspective is needed. As Defra matures as an open data department the EADAG approach might prove to be a good example of best practice. In this post I will give a brief overview of the EADAG and the work it is doing.

Defra’s Open Data approach is to be ‘open by default’. The Environment Agency (EA) announced its commitment to publish as much of its data as possible, including flood data, as Open Data in June 2014. With that commitment the EA announced that it would establish a Data Advisory Group to advise on matters relating to open data and help prioritise datasets for release as open data.

In November 2014 the EA established it's Data Advisory Group (EADAG). The EADAG is chaired and run independent of the Environment Agency. The group was set up to give the EA a different perspective on its data and how it may be useful to others. The group helps the EA become more customer focused when planning and commissioning open data releases. To find out more about the group read Miranda Kavanagh’s blog from November 2014. The group also publishes meeting minutes, papers and other material on its blog.

From its very first meeting EADAG has made notable strides in helping EA shape the future of open data. It’s first big task was to prioritise the top 50 datasets that were put forward by the EA as potential candidates for release. This has been instrumental in informing the EA how their internal priorities relate to those of users. That means data that were high priority for both the EA and EADAG will have overall high priority for release as open data. Prioritisation is just the beginning of the process. Once datasets are identified as having high priority they will need to follow the established Approval for Access (AfA) process to gain approval for release. (More about that process in a future blog.)

What’s next on the EADAG agenda?

From the prioritisation exercise it was clear which datasets had high priority. One such dataset is LIDAR. Given its high priority the EA informed the EADAG that it was interested in exploring releasing the LIDAR data as open data. To help, the EA asked the EADAG to help build a business case. In fact the EADAG will not develop a business case in the strict sense of the term but rather a justification why EA should forego current cost recovery revenue from LIDAR data. EADAG has been brainstorming the various applications of LIDAR and how releasing the data would benefit the EA, users and the UK (society in general). They will continue to look at the potential uses of LIDAR in the coming weeks and will welcome any contributions. If you have any ideas how LIDAR data may be used in your area of work please get in touch with the EADAG and contribute to this business case.

What else is on the EADAG Agenda? Data formats. The EA asked the EADAG to work on some general advice on data formats. This would provide the agency with a ‘user perspective’ on formats when publishing data.

Its early days but the EADAG has made a very good start. As more and more open data are released it will good to see how the group will evolve to maybe act as a feedback mechanism – providing EA and Defra with feedback on the issues affecting users and how the department can optimise benefits derived from the use of data.

In the future I will be interested in exploring how the EADAG approach could be extended to the wider Defra Network. This may not necessarily mean establishing data advisory groups for all Defra network bodies but adopting some of the key elements of the EADAG like:

  • Prioritising data for publishing
  • Demonstrating the value of open data (identifying uses and potential uses of data)
  • Providing advice on usability (formats, quality etc)
  • Providing a feedback loop (on how open data are used and the challenges users face)

Please follow and contribute to the work of the EADAG via their blog and help shape the future of open environmental data.

Savania Chinamaringa, Defra, July 2015

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